How to Choose Clothing Layers

So you have laid out about $500 in new snowboard gear. You are ready for the season, you lay out another chunk of change on a lift ticket, and you're on the mountain. About an hour into your day, you are soaking wet, cold, clammy and freezing. Welcome to layering 101. Here's how to buy base layer clothing so you're comfortable all day long.

Base layer starts next to the skin

In cold weather, your body still sweats. And sweaty clothing in cold weather is not a good thing. The job of your next-to-skin or base layer is to wick moisture. Look for synthetic materials such as Techwick® polyester shirts or long underwear. If you prefer a natural fabric, choose wool or silk. Always avoid 100% cotton base layer which absorbs sweat and holds it close to your skin.

Insulation is the next layer to this human sandwich.

The function of your mid-layer is to insulate you from the cold, and continue to move moisture outward. Your choice depends on weather conditions and activity level. If it is a typical New England ski day at Stratton, a classic fleece will do. Examples of basic mid-layers are Polartec® Power Stretch® or Techwick Thermo. Both are breathable, lightweight, quick-drying, and insulate when wet.

One drawback to fleece is that it is wind-permeable. So if you are headed for Whiteface in January and it's blowing hard, buy a fleece that blocks wind. Examples include the EMS Divergence or a WindStopper® fleece.

Wool and down are natural fiber options. Merino wool base layer sweaters and shirts are excellent insulators, soft, highly breathable, and naturally odor-free. Down offers unbeatable warmth, but is best for dry climates (since it loses its insulating abilities when wet).

Outer layer is your protection for the elements

Wind, water, snow and sleet stop here. We have winter jackets and winter shells that serve all types of snow sports; skiing, riding, hiking, and all-around winter fun. Today, your typical snowsports shell is often non-insulated (or very lightly insulated). The shell's main function is to repel water, while remaining breathable. Without breathability, sweat builds up and your clothing loses its insulating ability.

Another benefit of a non-insulated, non-bulky shell is versatility. Wear it as a rain jacket in the spring with just a Techwick base layer shirt underneath, or wear it as a snow jacket in the winter with insulating base layers beneath.

More on ventilations

As mentioned above, all of your layers need to be breathable, allowing your perspiration to escape and your body to regulate its temperature. Many shells also feature zippered vents (such as underarm "pit zips"). With vents, you can let out the heat you have built up - while working hard at having fun.

Waterproof vs. water-resistant

As you shop, you may notice that some shells are "waterproof" and some are "water-resistant." All have outer surfaces that are treated with a DWR or durable water-resistant finish which helps shed water so it's not absorbed by the fabric. Our waterproof/breathable jackets, however, also have a coating or laminate on the inside of the garment, and the seams are sealed so you stay dry from the inside out as well as from the outside in. Bottom-line, water-resistant outerwear is fine in mild weather, but prolonged wetness needs a waterproof jacket or pant.

Layers = versatility & value

Using layers gives you options you can customize your clothing, just like you customized your deck. This versatility means a better value too, allowing your outerwear set to adapt from mild autumns to chilly winters to rainy springs.

So layer up, and make the most of your new gear! If the day starts out cold and it's bluebird by noon, take off one of the base layers and open those vents to enjoy the sun. Have fun, and enjoy the mountain life.